« Allo, Huaraz? »

«Allo Huaraz, do you hear me? Is someone there?» No. Nobody is there to answer the local governor when he tries to show the journalists how a satellite phone may save Huaraz from a deadly mudslide. His funny failure is now live on TV but the deadly danger remains.

Huaraz, a 150’000 inhabitant city located in the Peruvian Andes is under the constant threat posed by Lake Palcacocha. A modest but devastating mountain lake that already destroyed half of the city in 1941, killing approximately 5’000 people. If nothing is done, the human cost of the next flood could be much higher as the has now five times more inhabitants than in 1941.

Since the 70’s, the volume of Palcacocha expanded by a factor 34, reaching 17 million cubic meters. If a part of the neighboring glacier falls into the lake, the wave it would generate has big chances to destroy the very unstable moraine, unleashing a devastating mudslide that would reach Huaraz in less than one and a half hour.

In 2009, the engineer Cesar Portocarrero warned the authorities about the danger of the constantly growing lake and suggested building a tunnel to reduce the water level. They preferred a cheaper but temporary solution: building a siphon to stop the lake from expanding but keeps it at a dangerous level. Guards are constantly monitoring the lake, equipped with communication equipment.

 Unfortunately, in Huaraz, nothing is prepared to react to the unavoidable dreadful phone call. No sirens, no trainings, no precise map of the dangerous zones.

Why are the authorities so passive? Probably not because of the money. Mining industry is bringing huge revenues to the local government. The issues lies more in the nature of the problem: «politicians want immediate results. They are not interested by risk reduction, because if everything works, there’s nothing to show» analyses Mr. Portocarrero.

Solving Palcacocha’s security threat may even create another opportunity for the growing city: securing access to clean water for the near future. The defeated mayor candidate Raùl Ortiz based his campaign on this idea: not only reducing the deadly danger, but also preventing the next problem to come, the drying of the water sources in the region.

This project was made possible thanks to the generous support of Sustainable Mountain Art (SMART) initiative led by FDDM as well as on site support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).